The California, Missouri native, Kassi Ashton, blew us away with her gritty, glamorous country songs at RNB 2021. Last year, she chatted with us about her Missouri upbringing, finding success in Nashville, and her obsession with Harley-Davidson motorcycles. Now, she tells us about what she’s been up to since then and what we can expect from her RNB 2022 performance.
Interviewer: Since we got to hear your story last year, I was thinking today would just be more of a catch up to talk about what you’ve been up to in the last year and what’s coming up. But firstly I just wanted to ask—how was your Roots N Blues experience?
Ashton: It was great! I mean, I have never played a festival that close to home, so to finally do that was fabulous. There were a lot of people there that I hadn’t seen in a very long time that I was surprised showed up. The catering! From an artist’s point of view, the catering was, like, a ten out of ten. So that’s always good. Everyone was so kind and lovely. It was really easy for my family to navigate their way through parking, getting in, making their way to the stage. It was all so great.
Interviewer: Awesome! We really enjoyed your set and we’re super excited to have you back at the festival. So yeah, if you just want to talk me through what you’ve been up to in the last year. You’ve put out three singles—“Heavyweight,” “Dates in Pickup Trucks,” and “I Don’t Go Back.” What are you working on at the moment, anything new? I know you’re not touring a ton right now so I’m wondering if there are any new projects or upcoming tours.
Ashton: I’m on—in country—what’s called a radio tour. “Dates in Pickup Trucks” is my debut radio single, so although there are three songs that came out, “Dates in Pickup Trucks” is, like, the single. Does that make sense? It’s the one that’s shipped to radio. I started in November, but really heavily in January. What radio tour is is, in country, you go around to every recording station in the country. There’s between a hundred and forty-five and a hundred and sixty. You go, and you play in front of a P.D., which means Program Director, the person who decides what gets played when and in what rotation. And you go around, and you play them your songs, live in the studio or in a conference room or, who knows, in the back of a minivan. [You play them] the single and some other stuff that will be coming out later, you have a meal together, you hang out, you get to know them, and then you go to a new city either that day or the day after. So it’s really strenuous, very busy. I’m literally home, like, two days and then gone for five days. Then home for two days, then gone. And I’ve been doing that since January, so it’s super busy. That’s why you don’t see tour dates on the books. Because, [with] radio tour, once you go in and you play songs for them and you hang out, then you play a free show for their station. I’m playing shows for the rest of the year, but they’re all radio shows. Whatever event the radio station is putting on, I’m probably playing it.
Interviewer: So you are pretty much on tour, it’s just not the kind of tour that people outside the industry are super familiar with.
Interviewer: How can people tune in and listen to these shows in their local cities? Do they just keep up with their local country station?
Ashton: Yeah. It’s usually, like, large metropolitan areas [that] are the ones that have recording stations. So there’s three [areas with] recording stations in Missouri: St. Louis, Kansas City, and Springfield. Those people, if they’re loyal listeners of the station and they follow them on Facebook or their subscribing email lists or whatever, they will always be updated if I’m playing or when I’m gonna be on air or anything like that.
Interviewer: Have there been any particularly memorable stops on this radio tour?
Ashton: Oh yeah [laughs]. Every one is different. You never know what kind of situation you’re going to be in. You can be playing in a conference room to just the P.D. and the M.D. You could be playing to a hundred listeners that got called in to the studio to listen. You could be playing, like I said, in the back of somebody’s minivan. I played in a private room in a Mexican restaurant. Whatever the P.D. asks of you, basically. In country music—not so much in pop or indie or rock is this such a big deal, but in country music, radio is still king. So the process of going for radio for the first time is huge.
Interviewer: That explains why your tour dates are kind of quiet right now, but I did see you have a few shows scattered through the next few months in various locations.
Ashton: Most of those, I think, are radio shows where the public comes. Where they can enter to win or buy tickets or whatever.
Interviewer: Okay, so “Dates in Pickup Trucks.” Let’s talk about your single. Can you talk me through the inspiration behind it? It’s obviously another fun one, very country. It reminded me of “Field Party” a little bit, in terms of the themes.
Ashton: Yeah! So that song I wrote with Luke Laird and David Garcia a couple years ago, actually. My grandma called me one day and she said, “Me and your grandpa went on a date last night.” And they’ve been together since they were, like, fourteen. And I said, “What did you do?” And she said, “I made dinner, we packed it up in the truck, and we rode around on old roads we haven’t seen in a long time.” I was laughing afterwards because all my best dates were in pickup trucks, too. Like, you know, in a town as small as California, Missouri, that’s the only thing to do—unless you’re going to Pizza Hut—is ride around and listen to music and hang out on backroads. So I thought it was adorable that my eighty-something-year-old grandma is still doing it. I thought what perfect content for a radio song that’s being heard, you know, probably in your car on the way home from work. Whether you’re seventeen or eighty, you either went on a date in a pickup truck last weekend or you wanna do it this weekend.
Interviewer: I love that. I remember that you like having a hand in every aspect of your career, so was it you that championed this as the radio single? How did this come to be the one that you chose?
Ashton: The label picks. The way it works is you turn in three or four options that you’re cool with so I turned in four options, I think, that were good radio single options that I had discussed with my team. Then the promotions team, they pick which one it is.
Interviewer: It sounds like you have your hands very full with this radio tour but is there anything you can tell us about when to expect some new music?
Ashton: In country, the way it works is your single works its way up the charts for a year and then usually the system is when it gets close to number one, or right as it goes number one, you put out an album. So I’m working towards that. When [Dates in Pickup Trucks] goes number one, I will be releasing my debut album.
Interviewer: Very exciting. So you’ve got some stuff you’re sitting on, you’re just waiting for when the time is right?
Ashton: Yeah, totally.
Interviewer: I’m super excited to hear it. Lastly, is there anything you can tell us about your set [at Roots N Blues] this year?
Ashton: It’s gonna be a blast. It was a blast [last] year. It’ll only get better because hopefully by October the single’s up the charts far enough that people are singing it back to me. That would be supreme. And I get to play the new stuff that I’ve released, which I didn’t last year. By the way, Chaka Khan is playing and I will be fangirling front row for that.
You can catch Kassi Ashton at Roots N Blues at 3:30 on the Equipment Share Stage on October 8th, 2022. Get your passes here: https://rootsnbluesfestival.frontgatetickets.com/.